Thursday, July 17, 2014

Yin and Yang

Photo courtesy of Brian Prugh
The repair / modification / refit of The Floating Bear has flung me into a yin / yang world. Taking this abused, neglected, poorly built Papa Oscar Sierra of a sailboat and turning it into a safe, more comfortable home for Daughter Eldest and Family is a really worthwhile project. It is also kind of fun, and more than a bit of a challenge.

Then again, we did not go cruising to spend 10 – 12 hours a day of a Southern Florida summer trying to salvage a disaster boat and turn it into something useful. Killer restraints on budgets and time don't add anything to the experience. Every dime spent has to be squeezed out of an already thin account somewhere. Until The Floating Bear is habitable some of the people I love most in the world are basically homeless.

So sometimes I can be found humming and content as I tear up rotten floorboards and tear down equally rotten headliners. Just hours later I can be found groaning in pain as badly fiberglass burned arms torture me through yet another sleepless night. The dink commute to work is normally the hardest part of the day with me at my lowest. There is so much to do and so many disasters to avoid. Glass work outside in Florida heat and humidity, grinding and laying, fairing and sanding, in full tyvek gear and full face breathing mask, ranks near the top of the miserable job list. Crawling down into a sun-baked lazarette to work on a totally screwed up drive train may rank even higher. Florida thunderstorms pop up and undo hours of prep work. It is hard to look forward to a day like that.

The dink ride home is the highlight of the day. Decisions got made. Work got done. The Floating Bear is just a little bit less of a disaster. (Though that would be hard to tell from looking at her unless one has been involved in projects like this before.) My old body is sore, hands chafed and often bleeding at bit, but that is what happens when one wrangles bad stuff into good. And I have to admit I enjoy the camaraderie of tough men doing hard work, something completely lost to the white collar, air conditioned crowd.

Dennis Carter is from Nicaragua. He laughs at my Spanish and lays down some of the prettiest glass work you will ever see. Freddy is rumored to be a crack addict trying to keep it together. But he would work any CEO in the country into the cardiac ICU if they tried to match him grinder for grinder. He doesn't talk much and is surprised that I treat him as an equal.

For it seems I have become a bit of a story. This is a yard of mega yachts and 80' sport fishing boats. Owners step out of air conditioned BMW's and Mercedes to complain to managers. The skilled people actually doing the work rate hardly a glance. Then there is me. The word is out that I used to fly jets, that this is my "other" boat, and that I am paying serious bucks to sweat and grind.
Which, to the skilled, makes me either bat-shit crazy or just plain stupid. They haven't decided which yet and, truth be told, neither have I. But this is a thing that has to be done and maybe being a little of both is the secret to making it to the end.

For now though, it doesn't feel like there is an end. Just another day, another task, a dink ride in and a dink ride home when the day finally ends. Each day has some yin and some yang. Some tasks go well. The keel repair is nearly done, the rudder work is forging ahead with parts arriving, old thru hulls are sealed, the compression post step is repaired. The old floor is gone and most of a new one is fitted.

Other tasks are still an uphill slog. Removing the worn shaft coupler was a monster and the new stuffing box is going to be a couple of days late. We still await word on the usability of the old shaft. No decision has been made on the new prop. Work has yet to commence on the wiring / bilge pumps / gray water tank / new head and holding tank install. Only half the cabin overhead is ground and ready for paint. There is still some deck hardware to remove, one exterior grab rail broke and will have to be repaired; there is soft and rotten wood everywhere. The spot where the old mast step folded down the cabin top is going to be more of a task than hoped.

 Another dink ride. Another day  Yin and yang.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sellers Beware

I'm probably the least violent person you will ever meet. I'm pretty thick skinned and if you piss me off you had to work at it really hard. I hate anything to do with guns, I abhor war in any form, and I generally back off from confrontation in general unless I, or someone I love, have been wronged. So you can imagine just how much it would take me to get to the point of telling you that I want to do physical harm to the guy who sold The Floating Bear to my kids.

The Bear's original name was Obsession. The previous owner was clearly not obsessed with anything but getting out of what was even more clearly a bad purchase he had made. Along come two newbies, and he saw his chance. The only problem? Those two newbies were putting two small children on the boat. My grandchildren.

You want to believe that things are different in the boating community.  After cruising for a year we've found that to be true in the cruising community and we certainly had the background of a fantastic group of people in our home marina in Carlyle, IL, but something happens to people when they sell their boat. All of a sudden they develop a severe case of selective memory.

Brad (name not changed to protect the innocent) willingly sold my kids a boat with serious, nearly fatal faults. And yes, before you leave a hundred comments about it, it was definitely their responsibility to have the boat inspected. Unfortunately, their mechanic father was otherwise indisposed in the islands. They were broke, needed a place to live, it was an inexpensive boat, it was where they needed it to be when they needed it to be there and did I say they were broke? They made many mistakes, the biggest of which was trusting a boat owner that said he "fixed the rudder", but you still find yourself hoping that any human being looking at those two toddlers could not find it in themselves to sell a boat with these chainplate mounts.

Did I mention that this pissed me off?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dashed Dreams and Pooh-isms

It starts as a thought. Sometimes it's as nebulous as a fleeting image amid the shifting colors and shapes that frequent our closed eyes, those ones in that few moments between the sigh of stretching out in bed after a long day and the blessed descent into deep sleep. Sometimes it's a nagging poke in our busy, workaday consciousness demanding attention when we have little to give, plaguing us like a fly at which we swat, irritated.

The thought falls on fertile ground. The thought lurks in the darkness of the fertile soil, tenuous little shoots breaking through the hard shell of the seed to take root, small ones at first that will grow with water and sunshine.

The Thought becomes an idea. The Idea can't be ignored. It's a force to be reckoned with, pushing aside meetings, appointments, to-do lists, and schedules. You begin to hear musings like, “What if?” and “Maybe we could...” and “I'll look on, you know, just to see what's out there...”

The Idea becomes a dream. The Dream is all-encompassing. It involves your desire to live with less: less of a carbon footprint, less money, less “stuff” as an encumbrance, less stress. It might involve looking to travel. It might involve looking to escape. It might mean looking for a place to live with a view. You look at big boats you can't possibly ever hope to afford. You look at boats with all the comforts of home. You look at staunch blue water sailboats because you aspire to be Joshua Slocum. You pour over maps and glossy magazines with pictures of white, sandy beaches and aquamarine waters. Your umbrella drink is already in your hand as you swing in the hammock in the shade of a coconut palm.

The Dream becomes a plan. The Plan is usually the oft-intoned 5-year plan. Five years to look for and buy a boat, to take sailing classes, to purge yourselves of “stuff”, finish out your employment, move aboard, and cast off the dock lines. Ambitious? Yes. Doable? Yes.

In the same way as the seedling, this process is fragile and fraught with opportunities to fail. The process requires a mind open to new possibilities, to adventure, to change. It requires constant care. It requires thoughtful and careful choices, and it requires a tremendous amount of luck. Remove any of these and the beauty of a dream can fall by the wayside like so much refuse.

Our kids came dangerously close to this cliff yesterday. We hauled The Floating Bear out at a local marina in Ft. Lauderdale where they had made arrangements with a local mechanic to fix some of the more pressing issues so they could get on their way to their lives in Coconut Grove. The news was bad. In fact, the news was about as bad as it gets. The boat needs much more work than they anticipated, much more work than they have the financial resources to pay for, and even the mechanic who would be the beneficiary of the large check advised that our money would be better spent on another boat rather than the current money pit that is The Floating Bear. The Dream spiraled downward ever faster as the afternoon turned into evening and conversations became less hopeful.

Right around this time, as Tim and I walked back from the marina lounge, we happened to stop to chat with our friend Gillis, a full-time resident at the marina. Not being financially or emotionally involved in the drama of the Bear, he was able to offer some rather sage advice. He asked what their goal was.

Epiphany. We had lost site of the goal. The kids' goal was to find a sustainable, affordable way of living that would allow them to pursue their dream of writing and painting. While they love the idea of a sailboat and its way of fitting into nature in such a way as to compliment it rather than destroy it, they don't need a sailboat right now. They need a place to live. The Floating Bear didn't need to be The Sailing Bear.Very nearly all of the major repairs were related to The Bear's ability to ply the waters elegantly with canvas. Desirable? Yes. Necessary to reach the goal? No.

Discussions picked up this morning. Ideas were flung around, modified, tested, held up to the light, and some discarded. A hint of hope sifted through the conversation. The Dream began to be restored and a new Plan evolved. Tomorrow the Bear will begin the transformation from sailing boat to floating home and, as it is the home of an artist, a writer, and two small Pooh fans, it will undoubtedly be as creative as the original Floating Bear.  The Bear's days of sailing are over, but like its namesake, I think The Bear will carry her family safely through the floods that have been threatening, and when passersby exclaim that something (the mast) is missing from The Bear, they will have Pooh's words handy for retort: "I ought to say," explained Pooh as they walked down to the shore of the island, "that it isn't just an ordinary sort of boat."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Purge #3 Part II

Here's the next item up for removal from the boat. If you're interested let me know, otherwise it's going on eBay in a few days.

Purge # 3

We're going through the boat in project mode which usually means moving stuff around a lot which, in turn, means being tired of moving things around that we never use which, in turn, means wanting to get rid of some more stuff.

So what does this mean to you? It means I have a really terrific deal on a Marine stereo that we bought and decided not to install for various reasons. It's brand new in the box and you can get the details here or also in the sidebar top right of the blog. If you're interested, email us at svkintall att gmail dott com.

Sorry but this stereo is sold pending payment. If the deal falls through I'll remove this note.

Stay tuned for more listings...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Zen and the Five-year-old

When we left for the boat many, many things got left behind. In addition to ditching cars, motorcycles, jobs, income, and flying, my little workshop out in the garage was disassembled and sold off piece by piece. Most of my hand tools came along, but there is no room for things like belt sanders and table saws. Any joinery work needed on the boat now gets done the hard way. Most cuts are with a saber saw, a versatile little cutter not famous for leaving straight, clean edges in its wake. Anything that needs to look even half way finished will require much filing and sanding. Quick work in even a modest shop, slow work sitting on a bench with a sanding block and a sheaf of 80 grit.

Such labor intensity is anathema in the USA today. Anyone trying to squeeze a living out of a skilled trade needs maximum billing for minimum time spent. Even then most of the money will go to managers, insurers, and investors who don't actually make, move, design, or fix anything. But I'm not trying to earn a living. I'm just working on my old boat. The goal is to make it as safe and livable as a modest budget, and what skill I can conjure out of these old hands, will allow.

So I get to do a thing no one in the USA gets to do anymore, take a seat in the shade and run my fingers over an edge needing care. Then shave the rough stuff away with a rhythmic scraping that doesn't disturb the ducks or raise an eyebrow among the neighbors. The song flows through the fingers, whispers ideas to the mind, and settles in the heart with a sigh. Boats flow past on the river, clouds come and go, and occasional insect buzzes by but rarely bothers. Maybe its the thin, hovering veil of dust they don't like? In any case not many people have the time to spare to spend afternoons gently pushing wood into a needed shape.

Is it machine perfect when I am done? Of course not. But it looks okay to my eye and becomes a part of my home that no one knows as well as I do. It also becomes a part of my life, an afternoon spent in quiet motion making something that didn't exist before. And, in this case, came with an added bonus. My grandson sat next to me getting his first coating of wood dust along with his first lesson in the Zen of the sanding block. I don't think he caught much of the Zen part. Five-year-olds wake up every morning with more energy than they can burn in just one day. But he did a pretty good job for all that.

No modern society can exist on goods made this way. I make no claim that slow and labor intensive is somehow better. It clearly isn't. In almost every way - quality, quantity, cost of production, close tolerances to standards - the most modern, machine intensive way is far superior to the efforts of the lone craftsman. But that isn't to say nothing was lost when the machines came of age.

I rediscovered a hint of it today in a simple piece of wood. A piece that went directly from my hands to making our life just a tiny bit easier.